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Four Months Jail for Abalone Theft

AUSTRALIA - A Narooma man has been fined A$900 and sentenced to four months jail, one of the longest jail terms handed down for abalone theft to date.

Minister for Primary Industries Ian Macdonald said the man has a significant history of abalone offences and was caught by Department of Primary Industries fisheries officers in two targeted surveillance operations.

The man was charged with four offences under the Fisheries Management Act 1994, including possessing more than the legal limit, possessing undersized fish and obstructing Fisheries Officers during the hearing at Narooma local court last week.

"This man was caught on two occasions possessing a total of more than 400 illegally caught and undersized abalone," Mr Macdonald said.

"On one occasion, 295 shucked abalone were concealed in bush near Glasshouse Rocks and, thanks to the careful surveillance of fisheries officers, they were able to catch the man returning to the site to collect the illegal catch.

"In the second operation, more than 100 live abalone were safely returned to the water, thanks to the quick work of fisheries officers.

"The total amount of stolen abalone is worth more than A$3,000 on the black market but could be worth much more in securing the future of our abalone industry.

"We also confiscated a quantity of diving gear, ensuring it cannot be used in any future abalone crime.

"Authorities will not tolerate illegal fishing activity and this four month gaol sentence clearly demonstrates this."

The sentence is just part of an ongoing operation by the NSW Government which is targeting illegal fishing and organised syndicates operating along the State’s South Coast.

"Our targeted surveillance strategies are working - in the last 12 months alone, our fisheries officers on the South Coast have seized more than 9,900 illegally caught abalone destined for the black market, issued 13 penalty infringement notices and launched court prosecutions for more than 180 abalone offences," Mr Macdonald said.

Mr Macdonald said under new laws, announced earlier this month and due to be introduced to Parliament at the first opportunity, penalties and gaol terms will be substantially increased for illegal fishing activity.

"Under the new laws, poachers could face a maximum penalty of up to A$500,000 and 10 years in jail," he said.

"Trafficking priority species will soon be made an indictable offence and repeat offenders can have their penalty doubled for committing the same offence twice.

"For the first time illegal fishers can also be made to pay additional fines of up to 10 times the value of the illegal catch for high value species.

"We’ll also give courts the power to seize assets and money gained through illegal fishing, and bring certain serious fisheries offences under the Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime Act 1997.

"The Iemma Government is committed to enforcing tough penalties for fishery crimes, to protect our valuable natural resources so that they remain at sustainable levels."